Woman committed to helping injured river otter

By Jane Stebbins, Pilot staff writer May 17, 2013 09:13 pm

Kelly Wilson smiled when she noticed, from her office at Harbor Sanitation District, a river otter as it rolled in the sun on the warm asphalt parking lot last year.

She watched as salmon season rolled around and the critter quickly learned how to shimmy under the fence of the fish cleaning station and steal carcasses, swinging open the door and making its escape to the Chetco River below.

But on Wednesday, people were feeding it scraps of fish from the cleaning center, and as a former employee at Bandon Free Flight, a bird rescue operation, Wilson knew the otter was just asking for trouble.

That happened Thursday when the otter appeared again, this time dragging its left hind leg slowly behind it. 

“I see it out there at the port all the time,” said Carla Doan, who works with Wilson at the sanitation district. “Now he’s gotten accustomed to people, with all the fishermen feeding it. He’s holding his back leg up against his body and limping. He’s not moving very well. We’re just trying to save this little guy.”

No one is sure how the injury occurred, but Wilson suspects a fisherman’s dog or a car. So Wilson called Wildlife Images in Grants Pass, which agreed to take the otter, rehabilitate it and release it, likely in the Upper Rogue River.

But first, they told her, she had to get authorization from Oregon Fish and Wildlife Department.

Port Manager Ted Fitzgerald, who happened on the scene as the otter was skittering down the embankment, said he’d deal with the state agency to set a trap and have it transported.

Wilson said she merely wants people to know they shouldn’t feed wildlife. Any wildlife.

She’s said she’s dealt with this before, when fishermen fed brown pelicans last year and the young ones, recognizing an easy meal when it’s presented, didn’t leave for the winter and died of hypothermia. The brown pelican was delisted from the Endangered Species List in 2009.

Wilson was able to catch one of the young pelicans and get it to the Bandon rehabilitation facility for treatment.

“Please don’t feed the wildlife,” she said. “That’s all I want people to know. It doesn’t help them.”

Locally, people often feed birds, unaware that they are introducing food into their systems with which the birds are unfamiliar. Getting sick is the least of the problems the birds then face.

Seagulls begin hanging out in large flocks and, when they can’t find food, seek out the eggs of other birds, according to California Parks literature.

Young animals don’t learn to forage for themselves.

Some — even birds — become aggressive and, in many jurisdictions, an aggressive animal is a dead animal, as laws usually require they be “dispatched.”

Otters are more curious than anything, but if an easy, steady food source is introduced, they will return. If someone is feeding them, they start to feel comfortable around humans and if they approach someone who proffers no food, they might get aggressive.

Wilson said she was afraid this otter — particularly in its current condition — would be further injured or killed if left on its own.